I've been meaning to track Vigilante Force down since I picked up the Style A one-sheet at a poster sale at the Orpheum in Madison, WI about nine years ago. Directed by Tarantino favorite George Armitage (Miami Blues, Grosse Pointe Blank), this Phenix City Story-influenced actioner has yet to appear on home video in any format. Top-billed Kris Kristofferson (looking amusingly scraggly in a cop uniform) and Jan-Michael Vincent star as the brothers Arnold who start out on the same side and end up as foes. It seems that Ben Arnold's (Vincent) small town is being overrun by a group of violent oil workers. Naturally, Ben calls in his Vietnam-veteran brother Aaron (Kristofferson) to help quell the disorder. Aaron hires a group of mercenaries to put down the trouble makers, but it's not long before Aaron and his gang become corrupted by their newfound authority, setting the stage for a confrontation between the brothers, vigilante force vs. law and order.
Met with unsurprisingly tepid reviews, the film was also, surprisingly, a flop according to Michael Weldon's Psychotronic Video Guide. Made in a golden age of revenge pics and boasting Kristofferson and Vincent when their respective stars shone the brightest, Vigilante Force would seem to be right in line with Walking Tall, White Line Fever (also with Vincent), Dirty Harry, Fighting Mad, and the other urban Westerns that proliferated on drive-in screens throughout the early part of the decade. This was one of the earliest motion pictures to prominently feature a Vietnam veteran and it must be noted that that character, Kristofferson, is the "bad brother" and his hairy, frequently shirtless appearance is starkly contrasted by his clean-cut "good" brother Vincent. Not having seen the film, it's hard to know what political statement, if any, is being made by Kristofferson's characterization.
The film features a rare feature film appearance by Victoria Principal before her Dallas days and Bernadette Peters in one of her earliest roles. It should also be mentioned that the film was produced by Gene Corman, brother of Roger.
Director Armitage is anything but prolific, but several of his films--Hit Man, Miami Blues, Grosse Pointe Blanke--have left their mark, particularly on the aforementioned Tarantino, who talks enthusiastically about the audacious--and long lost--movie marketing of his youth and Armitage in a rambling and entertaining interview on Elvis Mitchell's The Treatment.
Vigilante Force features two distinctive poster ad campaigns, which can be seen here in their one-sheet incarnations. Like many films of the era, particularly exploitation and genre pieces, Vigilante Force's key art is bold and colorful, and based on a drawing or painting rather than photography. Although the Style A poster foreshadows the "big head syndrome" that would plague film posters and video artwork from the mid-1980s onward, it also includes a spectacular collage, in this case emphasizing the action set pieces of the film. The collage style was very prevalent in the 1970s. Three of my favorites in this vein are Electra Glide in Blue, Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold, and Duck, You Sucker. Style B isn't quite as flashy--perhaps this is why it's not the first string poster--but it effectively gets to the heart of the piece...brother against brother, with a woman in the middle, of course.
After looking at these posters or books such as Trash: The Graphic Genius of Xploitation Posters and Film Posters of the 60s, it's hard not to become at least a little depressed when looking at the latest batch of bland, colorless film posters and DVD covers. While it's true that the film's the thing, some semblance of film artwork surely couldn't hurt.